The Retirees go Abroad – Living in Tudor Times

 

If you have been following my blogs then you may well be sick of manor houses and gardens. But before you turn off, this is a tale of a manor house built in wood that has been in the same family ownership since 1500 and was last added to or changed in 1610. When you see the photographs you may agree with me – how is it still standing?

Little Moreton Hall at Congleton Cheshire is a National trust property. It is moated. It is built of wood and daub plaster. It is the ancestral home of a family of yeoman farmers named the Moretons. The earliest parts of the house were built for William Moreton in about 1504–08, and the remainder was constructed in stages by successive generations of the family until about 1610. The building is highly irregular, with three asymmetrical ranges forming a small, rectangular courtyard. The house’s top-heavy appearance, is due to the Long Gallery that runs the length of the south range’s upper floor which was built in about 1560–62 for William Moreton II’s son John It includes the Gatehouse and a third storey containing a 68-foot (21 m) Long Gallery, roofed with heavy grit stone slabs, the weight of which has caused the supporting floors below to bow and buckle. I could not remember all this so I have extracted what I thought would explain to you the uniqueness of this house from Wikipedia. If you wish to read more go to http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Moreton_Hall.

Wikipedia has this comment which I thought was important for your understanding: “Architectural historians Peter de Figueiredo and Julian Treuherz describe it as “a gloriously long and crooked space (the Long Gallery), the wide floorboards rising up and down like waves and the walls leaning outwards at different angles.” The crossbeams between the arch-braced roof trusses were probably added in the 17th century to prevent the structure from “bursting apart” under the load.”

A small kitchen and Brew-house block was added to the south wing in about 1610, the last major extension to the house. The fortunes of the Moreton family declined during the English Civil War. As supporters of the Royalist cause, they found themselves isolated in a community of Parliamentarians. Little Moreton Hall was requisitioned by the Parliamentarians and used to billet Parliamentary soldiers. The family survived the Civil War with their ownership of Little Moreton Hall intact, but financially they were crippled. The family’s fortunes never fully recovered, and by the late 1670s they no longer lived in Little Moreton Hall, renting it out instead to a series of tenant farmers.

Elizabeth Moreton, an Anglican nun, inherited the almost derelict house following the death of her sister Annabella in 1892. She restored and refurnished the Chapel, and may have been responsible for the insertion of steel rods to stabilise the structure of the Long Gallery. In 1912 she bequeathed the house to a cousin, Charles Abraham, Bishop of Derby, stipulating that it must never be sold. Abraham opened up Little Moreton Hall to visitors, charging an entrance fee of 6d (equivalent to about £8 as of 2010) collected by the Dales who had taken over the tenancy in 1841, who conducted guided tours of the house in return. Abraham carried on the preservation effort begun by Elizabeth Moreton until he and his son transferred ownership to the National Trust in 1938. The Dale family continued to farm the estate until 1945, and acted as caretakers for the National Trust until 1955.

Tours of the house are available and they are really worth it. In the course of the tour our guide told us the house originally had a dirt floor and as the chooks and other animals would also be running through they threw a grass like product called “thresh” onto the floor and to keep the thresh in the house they erected a bar at the foot of each door called a “hold”. Hence our word “threshold” There is a chair in the main hall and we were told this was probably the only chair as everyone bar the elder of the house (the chairman) had stools or benches.

The house still contains a little furniture from the end of the 16th century. Apart from the chair there is the table top. We were told that in the 16th century this was called the “board” and it was not affixed to legs like today but rather sat on trestles. When the servants cleaned the room and everyone retired the board would be turned over because many servants received “board and lodging” instead of pay. There would have been other boards at the side of the room for other eating utensils – “side boards” and “cup boards”. If minstrels were visiting they would receive food in exchange for entertainment. So the boards would be taken into the courtyard and placed on the cobbles for the minstrels and troubadours to perform or “tread the boards”. Amazing where our vocabulary comes form.

Our tour included a visit to a room where we saw 16th century wall paper. In maintaining the house the National Trust has uncovered original “wallpaper” form that same time. The fashion was to draw patterns on the walls and colour them in but between the top of the wall and the ceiling is a fresco of biblical scenes drawn on paper affixed to the wall.

The Chapel is a sight to behold. It must have been constructed out of square to be so obviously crooked. The tour ends in the Chapel (which is still consecrated and used for short services). Walking around the remaining rooms there are picture boards with information on various aspects of the house. The “garderobes” are simple benches with holes and a drop into – you guessed it – the moat. Even so some poor sod had the job of cleaning out the mess and spreading it on the fields.

There is a good little café here with reasonable prices a warm fire and tasty food. We both recommend a visit to live in Tudor times.

The Retirees go Abroad – Surprise at Cheshire Cottage

 

As autumn unfolds and winter prepares to settle upon us, we await the arrival of our visitors from Australia. The days get shorter but because of the rain and cloudy skies it remains grey and some mornings the mist does not leave us. We are taking it easy as when they arrive we have a full itinerary –  London for a day then Scotland as far as Inverness then down Loch Ness and visit the distilleries of Islay before coming home (Long Eaton) for a few days before having Xmas in France and New Year in Paris.

Still, taking it easy doesn’t mean sitting still. So on a not so overcast day, we took out the National Trust guide book and decided we would visit Biddulph Grange National Trust Garden in Staffordshire and Little Moreton Hall Tudor house in Cheshire.

We arrived at the Garden shortly before the Garden opened, just enough time for a cup of coffee. So out came the flask and the home cooked oat biscuits and we sat in the mist enjoying the morning. We watched various cars arrive indicating the Garden had opened so we strolled over to the gate produced our passes and when asked where we came from the receptionist was surprised to hear we were from Nottingham. It’s a trick I love to play as the Notts/midland accent is just so different to a Queenslander. This always starts a conversation. As these sites are manned by volunteers it is often interesting to hear what secrets they can tell you about each place.

These gardens were billed as amazing and imaginative. This description undersells the Garden. They are truly innovative for the time of their creation. James Bateman designed the garden 150 years ago. The garden is a framework of hedges rocks, banks tunnels and discrete areas with their own distinct style and planting. There is feeling of exploration and surprise as you walk through various gardens some of which are designed to portray particular places in particular China, the Pyramids and the Glen.

The garden starts with the house. Unlike other great gardens, the house is just an entrance, tea room and gift shop. The remainder of the grand house has been converted into 9 private apartments. After walking from the house we were met by one of the volunteers and he gave us a few tips to make our exploration more enjoyable and showed us how to read the map of the garden.

We walked down a series of stairs to the Araucaria Parterre, a type of patio overlooking a lake full of fish and then circle around the Pinetum where we encountered our first tunnel. We walked through into an area of pine trees of every kind. The path was leading us to a cottage. As we approached the cottage a young couple with their children caught up to us and we walked together chatting. On reaching the cottage we see it is named Cheshire Cottage. We open the door and it is dark. Once your eyes adjust, you realise that there are no rooms but four further entrances. The fourth entrance houses a squatted figure whilst the other entrances remain a mystery. We choose to follow the young family and enter a tunnel with a point of light at the end.

We come out into the pale sunlight onto Wellingtonia Avenue; an avenue of pine trees running up a low hill. Walking up the hill we notice a bush walk off to the left so we take that path and wind through what appears natural bush land then we encounter that young family again as this walk returns onto Wellingtonia Avenue.

From the top of the avenue we get a grand view of the house, its valley and hills behind. We return along the avenue taking in the jigsaw of colours – greens, yellows reds and browns. At the end of the avenue we have a choice: the Cherry Orchard or re-enter Cheshire Cottage. There is not much happening in the orchard as the trees have dropped their leaves and await spring so we select the cottage and a different tunnel. We pop out in Egypt. Back into the tunnel and we pop out in the Watch Tower over looking Dahlia Walk (no dahlias til spring) and viewing the apartments.

Back to the tunnel and we arrive at the Stumpery, an area where old tree stumps have been used to create an eerie landscape of moss covered stump walls leading to China and the Temple. We travel through China and surprise another tunnel leading us to the Glen. It is autumn so the Rhododendrons are not in bloom. The glen leads us back to our first tunnel and the lake. The tour has finished but a most relaxing and surprising hour and a half. We must do this in spring. The garden will have change entirely with new growth, birds, animals, and insects.

 

So we leave the garden reinvigorated and feeling at peace.